William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Stream: ‘Three-Parent’ Babies Can’t Cure Disease

The Brave New baby-making machine.

The Brave New baby-making machine.

Today’s post is at The Stream: Creating ‘Three-Parent’ Babies Won’t Cure Anyone

Jones comes to the doctor and says, “Doc, I’m suffering from cancer.” Doc says, “No problem. Got the cure right here.” Doc pulls out a gun and shoots Jones in the cranium. Doc buzzes the intercom and says, “Nurse, send in Smith.” Smith comes in and Doc says, “You’re now Jones, and you’re cured.”

This make sense?

It ought to. Because this joke relies on the same logic touted by those who have created the first “three-parent” baby. These (mad?) scientists say, in effect, that by “discarding” one sick baby and replacing it by another healthy baby, they have “cured” the first. Or they say that by preventing the birth of a potentially sick first baby, and allowing the birth of a potentially healthy second baby, they have “treated” the first.

Make sense yet? No? Then we need to understand what a “three-parent” baby is…[Go the Stream to read how it’s done]…

Why do this at all? Because there are some heritable diseases associated with mDNA…

This lack of rules brings us to the point of the joke at the beginning. In justifying his procedure, Zhang said “To save lives is the ethical thing to do”. Yet Smith replaces Jones: Smith is not Jones cured.

No lives were saved by Zhang. No lives will be saved. No lives can be saved.

What happens is that some lives are prevented from being born, while others are killed to facilitate the birth of others. No diseases are “cured.” A cure is when a person with a disease has that disease removed. In “three-parent” child-making, a person who might get a disease is prevented from life, or killed…

Go there to read the rest.


  1. Apropos, another occasion to publicize the writing of Mrs Rebecca Taylor. Here’s a list of some articles by her, on related subjects. And it’s not all bad news either; some of this stuff really is therapeutic, not ‘therapeutic’ (as in, eliminating the ‘problem’ person).

    Matt, I loved your line at the end: “This isn’t playing God. God loves people.”

  2. I thought the whole deal with this specific example was that the scientist *didn’t* purposely destroy any fertilized eggs. The folks that had the procedure were Muslims and insisted that no fertilized eggs be destroyed. Saying that lives were *killed* seems needless hyperbole. Many, many fertilized eggs fail to develop properly in the womb, and die. We are saddened by any failure to develop, but isn’t this procedure, excluding the genetic engineering component, morally much like the catholic view on ectopic pregnancy? The goal of tube removal is to heal the woman, not kill the child. There is always a difference between killing someone directly and allowing someone to die of indirect causes.

    The much bigger concern which has been conflated with the issue of the fertilized eggs is the genetic engineering component.

  3. I dunno. Swapping the birth mother’s mitochondrial material for a donor’s doesn’t seem like a “three parent baby” … maybe a “Franken-baby”…

    But to say that taking some material from a woman’s otherwise unused egg (and a donor, a potential mother, would know if she was going to allow it or any others to be fertilized vs die because she decided to have no more children) is tantamount to killing someone seems rather far-fetched … like believing that dropping the eggs while readying to bake a cake has destroyed a cake that was never actually made.

    That is, its ok for the woman to willfully choose to kill her eggs by denying them fertilization, but killing an egg that won’t ever be fertilized is murder … and using that egg to facilitate life is wrong. Something seems off with that kind of thinking.

    ‘That kind of thinking’ stems from a grossly oversimplified view of how humans procreate — the concept that humans “normally” procreate via the transfer of the father’s & mother’s DNA is, while mostly true, not completely true…which means it is wrong.

    Commonly DNA from their baby infiltrates a mothers body, sometimes to the point of making paternity validation of the mother-child relationship appear false, etc. Sometimes the unborn twin’s DNA in a father will be the parent of a child, not the father’s DNA (fertilized eggs surprisingly often start to germinate and when the mother’s body detects something wrong will absorb the developing fetus, when there’s only one a “false pregnancy” it is called, when there’s a twin the other twin might survive).

    One can look this up, and related features of chimeras, searching with terms that include chimera/ism. Here’s one case where a father managed to pass on his unborn twin’s DNA:



    When one understands the the unusual, but surprisingly less common than one would think, frequency of chimeras and other seeming oddities, the kind “three parent baby” technique described doesn’t seem so unusual.

  4. These three-parent people can still be hit by car and endure great suffering. They will likely sustain other injuries in the course of their lifetime. They will still be sinful, and will suffer from the sins of others.

  5. Child introducing parents to friend:
    This is my dad. This is my mom. This is my mitochondrial mom.

    And the last name hyphenation thing is going to get complicated too.

  6. Gary, no more complicated than a kid with a mother who has divorced and married more than once. (Real Dad, current Dad, former Dad ….)

  7. Hey, is this how “Mitochondrial Eve” came to be?

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